On Sunday, pro-independence supporters made slight gains in provincial elections in New Caledonia, but loyalist parties will hold on to their majority in congress. The vote has important implications for the future of the French territory.
On the edge of civil war 30 years ago, New Caledonia’s two major groups reached agreement on a decolonization process that’s delivered political stability, but no resolution to the fundamental divide between settlers and indigenous Kanaks.
Last November, a solid majority voted to remain part of France in a referendum, but the vote was closer than expected, and pro-independence parties vowed to pursue two re-runs allowed under the Noumea accords; the next referendum is expected in 2020.
On Sunday, voters chose the Congress that will control both that vote and a third and final referendum in 2022.
The members of congress will be selected from the three provincial assemblies elected on Sunday – heavily Kanak areas overwhelmingly favored pro-independence groups, while the more densely populated Southern Province returned big majorities for loyalists. When all is said and done, anti-independence forces will control a narrow majority.
Under the Noumea accord, the electorate is restricted to Kanaks and to settlers on the rolls before 1994. Eventually, more recent arrivals will insist that they be allowed to vote, too, which will likely mean bigger loyalist majorities.
Though outnumbered in their own land, Kanak leaders argue that the decolonization process must lead to decolonization, which they define as the restoration of their sovereignty.